New restaurants are popping up, or set to pop up, all along Honolulu Avenue in Montrose. The most recent opening is Thee Elbow Room at the eastern end of town. With a Cordon Blue chef-curated menu of unique sandwiches and salads and a quiet patio to enjoy them in, Thee Elbow Room carves a distinct niche in the Montrose Shopping Park community.
A few tweaks in service and atmosphere might be useful to really bring in the droves that Chef Cristal Arguellas deserves. My first visit to Thee Elbow Room was rocky. I approached the counter to order. As always, I had a number of friendly questions. The clerk seemed bored by my queries and helped me little in making food decisions. There was no one else there so being swamped was not the issue. As I waited (a short time) for my food, I sat in my uncomfortable, chilly patio chair, gazing upon dying potted plants and I noticed locals stopping inside for long chats. This served to make me feel like an outsider, not the way you want customers to feel.
A salad in a to-go container and a plastic fork were fairly plopped in front of me. As I looked up, he briefly explained they don't have a full kitchen so all dinnerware is disposable. Then he was gone.
I took a bite of my Kale Caesar Salad ($7). It was gutsy yet delicate, full of flavors like anchovy, garlic, lemon and herbs with textures of tender curly kale, crunchy Romaine, Parmesan shavings and crispy homemade croutons. It was everything I admire in a salad: innovativeness and harmoniousness. Suddenly my patio became sunny and comfortable, I could see new growth on the plants and appreciated they were being cared for. The water in my Styrofoam cup was refreshing. I liked the solitude of the space thinking this would be a great place to have coffee, read the paper and watch Montrosians stroll by.
I brought my family back for another lunch. We shared an outstanding Balsamic Tuna Melt ($7), the tuna fragrant, the cheese fresh, the panini grill-toasted bread from the Montrose Bakery down the street particularly crispy and delicious. The bakery's rye swirl bread graces the Reuben Sandwich ($8), a clove-scented combination of juicy corned beef, cabbage slaw and Russian dressing, all homemade. The sandwiches come in a basket with a side of potato chips.
The Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese salad is another fine example of a tasty, well-balanced combo ($7). Like the Kale Caesar, the salad arrives pre-tossed (the way all salads should in my opinion) with big chunks of fresh beets and sweet candied walnuts. Chef Arguellas does not shy away from liberal amounts of her delicious dressings so if you want it light, you'd better say so.
Metered parking is available steps away from the cafe. A free lot is just down the street. There's free WiFi and an unhurried vibe so it's a good choice for students as well as parents with strollers. While you might expect table service for an eight-dollar sandwich, prices for the high-quality food are fair especially when you consider they include tax.
They're working on getting a license to serve California-made craft beer along with their tasty food. Sounds like a good idea. Improvements to the overall experience at Thee Elbow Room could make this a fun Montrose hangout.
What: Thee Elbow Room
Where: 2418 Honolulu Ave., Suite A, Montrose
Hours: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday
Prices: Salads and sandwiches, $7 to $8; coffee and other beverages, $1 to $3
More info: (818) 248-1769
LISA DUPUY has reviewed area restaurants since 2008. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.